By James Beasley
“That was a real donnybrook, wasn’t it?!” Copiah Academy head coach Scotty Cline said after his Colonels rallied at the end to outscore the Leake Academy Rebels 43-38 in Gallman. Anyone there would have to agree.
In a night of big plays, Peyton Whitehead made two of the biggest. With less than two minutes remaining and CA trailing 38-37, the senior running back caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Barron Miller and outraced the Leake Academy defenders 69 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The two-point conversion failed.
And when Leake quarterback Wesley Webb scrambled 12 yards and completed a pair of passes to move the Rebels past midfield, it looked as if they would snatch a victory away from the homestanding Colonels. That’s when Whitehead made his second big play – an interception at the Copiah 39-yard line with 33 seconds left. Only then could Colonel fans breathe a sigh of relief.
In the first half, it looked as if CA would turn the game into a rout. Barry Blackwell ran the opening kickoff back 42 yards from his own 19 to the Leake 39. Then, on the first play from scrimmage, Whitehead raced 39 yards for the first of his 4 TD’s on the night. Miller ran for the 2-point conversion and Copiah led 8-0.
The Colonels got the ball back at their own 15 and put together an 85-yard drive that culminated in Whitehead’s 5-yard TD run. Brandon Baker kicked the PAT putting Copiah up 15-0. Highlights along the way included 10-yard and 12-yard runs, respectively, by Whitehead and a pair of 16-yard pass completions to Adam Pitts.
Leake got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter as running back Will Meyers rambled 18 yards deep into CA territory. He scored moments later on a 12-yard run. John Forrest Sisson kicked the PAT, and the Rebels trailed 15-7.
On Copiah’s ensuing possession, Miller passed 11 yards to Dillon Martin and 13 yards to Pitts, but the drive fizzled and the Colonels were forced to punt. Doug Strait’s punt pinned Leake inside its 5, and Copiah got the ball back in excellent field position moments later when Brandon Baker returned a Rebel punt 25 yards to the Leake 37.
From there, Miller ran 25 yards to the 12, and Whitehead scored on the next play. Miller then connected with Martin for the 2-point conversion that gave the Colonels a 23-7 lead midway through the second period.
However, the Rebels rallied again, driving 67 yards in 15 plays and scoring as sophomore Thomas Nazary punched the ball in from the one. Webb passed to Blake Gray for the 2-point conversion with 25 seconds left in the half and Leake went into the dressing room trailing by eight, 23-15.
At the start of the third quarter, the Rebels picked up right where they’d left off as they drove 80 yards and scored on Webb’s 14-yard TD pass to Aaron Shepard. Webb ran for the 2-point conversion, and the score was tied 23-23 with 7:47 remaining in the third period.
The Colonels responded with a drive of their own. Kelton Smith, back after being out several weeks with an ankle injury, returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to his own 42. He then took a pitch and raced 34 yards before going out of bounds at the Leake 24. A 14-yard run by Smith moved the ball inside the 10. Two plays later, he dove into the end zone from the 5 for the go-ahead TD. Baker added the PAT, and Copiah led 30-23.
Ty Quick’s fumble recovery set CA up at the Leake 40, but the Colonels failed to capitalize, and Strait’s punt was downed at the Leake 2-yard line. Webb passed to Thomas Tubby, who raced 60 yards to the Copiah 27, where Brandon Baker made a touchdown-saving tackle. On the next play, Jake Risher recovered a Rebel fumble to rescue the Colonels.
Kelton Smith’s 22-yard gallop and a 7-yard pass completion to Pitts moved the ball deep into Leake territory, but a 30-yard field goal attempt was no good, and the Rebels took over at their own 20. Webb broke free for a 59-yard run before Dillon Martin caught him from behind. After Copiah took over on downs, Kelton Smith raced 81 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Baker kicked the PAT, and it looked like CA was in control 37-23 with 8:09 left in the contest.
However, on the very next offensive play from scrimmage, Webb connected with Shepard for a 69-yard scoring play. Sisson booted the PAT, and the Rebels trailed by only seven, 37-30. Leake got the ball back and eventually scored on Cody Adams’ 3-yard run. Webb ran for the 2-point conversion, and the Rebels led for the first time, 38-37, with 2:32 remaining. That set the stage for Whitehead’s heroics and the thrilling conclusion.
“What heart, what guts, and what character our guys showed tonight!” the CA coach exclaimed afterwards. “We needed a win like this. If you like offense, this was a great night of offensive football.”
The stats said it all. The Colonels picked up 15 first downs and 303 yards rushing. Smith ran the ball 15 times for 160 yards, and Whitehead carried it 8 times for 86 yards. Meanwhile, Miller was 8 of 15 for 149 yards passing. The only bad news was the report that junior linebacker/tight end Will Smith had suffered a broken leg in the first half.
Copiah, 3-2, heads to Hattiesburg this Friday night to face the Presbyterian Christian Bobcats, also 3-2. Kickoff is set for 7:00 PM.
By James Beasley